Vir­ginia in­mate says he is in­no­cent

Lawyers cite re­can­ta­tions from two wit­nesses

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY RACHEL WEINER

Vir­ginia is set to carry out a death sen­tence for the first time un­der a new pro­to­col that shields more of the ex­e­cu­tion from pub­lic view.

Ivan Teleguz, who was con­victed in the mur­der of his for­mer girl­friend, is sched­uled to die April 25.

Pros­e­cu­tors con­tend that Teleguz paid to have Stephanie Sipe, the mother of his young son, killed in 2001. They said he showed the as­sailants Sipe’s Har­rison­burg apart­ment, took them to Wal­mart to buy a fil­let knife to use as the mur­der weapon and drove to Penn­syl­va­nia so he would have an al­ibi.

Teleguz has main­tained his in­no­cence, and two of the key wit­nesses against him have re­canted. There is ev­i­dence to bol­ster the re­can­ta­tions, his at­tor­neys say, that has never been heard in court.

Last Oc­to­ber, the Supreme Court de­clined to take his case after Teleguz ar­gued his trial at­tor­neys were in­ad­e­quate. Teleguz is ap­peal­ing again on the grounds that his claims of in­ad­e­quate coun­sel have never got­ten a full hear­ing. How­ever, the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the 4th Cir­cuit has de­clined to de­lay Teleguz’s ex­e­cu­tion for that ap­peal. At­tor­neys for Teleguz would like Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to is­sue a par­don or a com­mu­ta­tion.

“Mul­ti­ple wit­nesses have come for­ward that both his con­vic­tion and his death sen­tence are based on state­ments that they now ad­mit to be lies,” at­tor­ney El­iz­a­beth Peif­fer said. “Jus­tice would not be served by his ex­e­cu­tion.”

A Bri­tish group that as­sists Euro­peans fac­ing the death penalty in Amer­ica has also worked ex­ten­sively on be­half of Teleguz, who is orig­i­nally from Ukraine.

If the ex­e­cu­tion goes for­ward, wit­nesses — who could in­clude lawyers, fam­ily mem­bers of the vic­tim and jour­nal­ists — will not be able to see Teleguz un­til he is re­strained and IV lines have been set. The change comes after the

Jan­uary ex­e­cu­tion of Ricky Gray, when ad­min­is­ter­ing the drugs took an un­usu­ally long 33 min­utes.

The ACLU of Vir­ginia has pushed back against the pol­icy change, ex­press­ing con­cern about trans­parency and ask­ing McAuliffe to halt Teleguz’s ex­e­cu­tion.

“Such se­crecy makes it nearly im­pos­si­ble for the ob­servers or the pub­lic to judge whether an ex­e­cu­tion con­sti­tutes cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment be­cause of the spe­cific method of ex­e­cu­tion em­ployed or the suf­fer­ing it causes,” Claire Guthrie Gas­tañaga, the state ACLU’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, wrote in a let­ter to the gov­er­nor.

McAuliffe’s of­fice did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

But in re­cent court pa­pers, Vir­ginia’s se­nior as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral, Alice T. Arm­strong, wrote that Teleguz “has not iden­ti­fied any grave, un­fore­seen con­tin­gen­cies; only a de­sire to avoid the trial court’s law­ful judg­ment.”

“More than a decade has passed since Teleguz’s jury pro­nounced its moral judg­ment,” she wrote. “The be­reaved Sipe fam­ily is en­ti­tled to ‘real fi­nal­ity.’ ”

Sipe was found dead in her apart­ment July 23, 2001, her throat slashed. Her 2-year-old son was sit­ting in a bath­tub in the next room, un­harmed. It took three years for in­ves­ti­ga­tors to charge Teleguz, who was con­victed of hir­ing two men, Ed­ward Gilkes and Michael Het­rick, to kill the mother of his child. Alek­sey Safanov, an as­so­ciate, tes­ti­fied that Teleguz was tired of pay­ing child sup­port.

Het­rick cut his own hand while strug­gling with Sipe. As he was leav­ing, he saw Sipe’s young son in the bath­tub. He turned off the wa­ter and left.

Safanov also tes­ti­fied that after the slay­ing, Teleguz com­plained that the killer had left his own blood at the scene. Safanov said that Teleguz of­fered him money to “elim­i­nate” the first hired killer.

But after the 2006 con­vic­tion, Gilkes and Safanov re­canted, writ­ing that they had falsely im- pli­cated Teleguz un­der pres­sure from pros­e­cu­tors. Safanov said he was promised a visa to stay in the coun­try.

“I don’t have any rea­son to lie about all of this any­more,” Gilkes wrote in a de­po­si­tion. “I feel bad about what I did to Teleguz.”

But Gilkes re­fused to tes­tify again after ap­pointed coun­sel warned him that he was at risk of be­ing tried for per­jury or los­ing his plea agree­ment. Safanov, who was liv­ing in Kaza­khstan, never ap­peared in court dur­ing the ap­peal. Het­rick main­tained that he had been paid $2,000 by Teleguz to mur­der Sipe.

At­tor­neys for Teleguz ar­gued that Het­rick, who had his own crim­i­nal back­ground and his­tory of threat­en­ing to stab women, was fed in­for­ma­tion by in­ter­roga­tors.

Teleguz’s at­tor­neys also ar­gued that the trial was flawed be­cause their client was im­pli­cated in a sup­posed Ephrata, Pa., killing that never oc­curred. Gilkes tes­ti­fied that he was with Teleguz in Ephrata one day when two men, ap­par­ently Rus­sian, came up and said that if they weren’t paid, an­other man would soon be killed. He said a man was killed in the town a few days later, and pros­e­cu­tors re­ferred to that case in ar­gu­ing for the death penalty. But no such mur­der ac­tu­ally hap­pened.

An ap­peals court deemed the re­can­ta­tions “un­re­li­able” and up­held Teleguz’s con­vic­tion.

“While Gilkes re­tracted his trial tes­ti­mony im­pli­cat­ing Teleguz, he failed to pro­vide any ex­pla­na­tion why he and Het­rick trav­eled to Har­rison­burg to mur­der Sipe, who drove them there or how they ul­ti­mately lo­cated Sipe,” U.S. Dis­trict Judge James P. Jones wrote.

Teleguz’s at­tor­neys say that Sipe could have been killed be­cause of drug deal­ing in her fam­ily and that both Gilkes and Het­rick were in­volved in drugs.

Teleguz is one of six men on death row in Vir­ginia, all of whom com­mit­ted their crimes over a decade ago. Like other states, Vir­ginia has strug­gled with a short­age of drugs for ex­e­cu­tions. Gray was killed with a pre­vi­ously un­used cock­tail of drugs that in­cluded mi­da­zo­lam, a seda­tive ex­perts say is not strong enough to elim­i­nate the pain of the other two drugs used.

Ivan Teleguz is set to be ex­e­cuted for his con­vic­tion in the killing of Stephanie Sipe, an ex-girl­friend.

COUR­TESY OF THE TELEGUZ FAM­ILY

Ivan Teleguz in 2003. He was sen­tenced to death in 2006 for the mur­der-for-hire slay­ing of his ex-girl­friend, Stephanie Sipe, to whom he had been pay­ing child sup­port for their tod­dler son.

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